“I hope [these anniversary events] will create a greater awareness of Austria and a momentum that will last for years to come”

Flying high

Austrian Ambassador to Japan Hubert Heiss


Text by Andrew Howitt / Photos by Kageaki Smith

Austria and Japan established diplomatic ties in 1869 with the signing of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, and this year marks 150 years of close bilateral relations. Austrian Ambassador to Japan Hubert Heiss sat down with Eurobiz Japan to speak about what has been planned for this very special year, the recent visit of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, and how flying between Vienna and Tokyo just became a lot easier.

How are Austria and Japan celebrating 150 years of diplomatic relations?

This anniversary is, to us, a welcome occasion to increase Austria’s presence in the public space in Japan. There is an a priori interest in Austria in political circles, media and the public in general, and we want to satisfy this interest. There are many vehicles to do this. One is high level visits. We recently had visits from the federal chancellor and the foreign minister. Federal President Van der Bellen will visit in the autumn on the occasion of the enthronement of Emperor Naruhito.

There are a number of cultural events, such as exhibitions of paintings by Gustav Klimt, and another called Vienna on the Path to Modernism, which focuses on art from Vienna at the turn of the 20th century. There are special musical performances, such as the annual tour by the Vienna Boys’ Choir from April to June and the Vienna Philharmonic week in Japan in November. There are also some events on the economic side, such as a delegation of Austrian companies at trade fairs like FORESTRISE 2019 in Nagano in August and the Austria Snow campaign, with Austrian and Japanese stakeholders and partner cities, in the area of winter sports. It’s quite a programme.

I think these events will bring Austria and Japan even closer. And I hope they will create a greater awareness of Austria and a momentum that will last for years to come — until we have the next celebration.

Could you give me some details about Chancellor Kurz’s visit in February?

The chancellor had an exchange of views with His Imperial Highness Crown Prince Naruhito. He also had a discussion with Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe. The topics they discussed included our excellent bilateral relations and people-to-people contacts. In the international sphere, possibilities of closer cooperation and joint endeavours in the western Balkan region were discussed. The Japanese side gave an assessment of the rather complex situation in East Asia.

The chancellor also visited Hiroshima. This visit was inspired by the desire to pay tribute to the victims and survivors of the atomic bombing, and it took place against the backdrop of a priority of Austrian foreign and security policy, specifically, nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation of nuclear weapons and, ultimately, a world free of weapons of mass destruction. The nuclear issue is very topical in Austria — parliament and the general public alike are against both the military and civil use of nuclear technology.

This particular visit was a major operation for the embassy since it was not only the federal chancellor visiting Japan with a few members of his staff, but he was accompanied by a delegation of some 60 people, including two federal ministers, members of the Parliamentary Friendship League and members of the business community and the media. The Vienna Philharmonic String Quartet came with the delegation to perform a gala concert celebrating the 150th anniversary.

Could you also tell me about Foreign Minister Kneissl’s recent visit?

The prime reason for her visit was to participate in the World Assembly for Women conference, hosted by Foreign Minister [Taro] Kono. Minister Kneissl was a keynote speaker in a panel discussion on the creation of new market value by women entrepreneurs, and she participated in the closing session with the participating foreign ministers.

In addition, she gave a lecture at Kyoto University on the energy mix of the future, addressing the need to make energy supplies sustainable in the future and what conditions must exist to achieve that goal. And she visited Nagasaki for the same reason the chancellor had visited Hiroshima a couple of weeks earlier.

Which Austrian industries are seeing growth right now?

For Austria’s economy, Japan has been a vital partner in Asia over the last decades. Japan is the third-largest overseas export market for Austria. Last year was yet another year where our exports to Japan surpassed €1.5 billion. It’s important to mention that Austria’s exports to Japan are diverse. There is no single industry that’s not finding business chances here in Japan, and vice versa.

I’d like to highlight one area of growth: forest technology, including timber harvesting and biomass. I believe Austria has a competitive edge when it comes to making these technologies economically viable. There’s a great interest in this from the Japanese side, and the demand for alternative energies here is huge, particularly in the area of biomass. Austria cooperates successfully with Japan on the integrated value chain of proper forest management. This includes high-tech equipment for logging and delivery, and high-efficient biomass plants.

Our trade promotion agency, Advantage Austria Tokyo, is working hard to create favourable conditions and to support individual companies in their business interests.

How is the resumption of direct flights between Vienna and Tokyo helping tourism?

Not only has Austrian Airlines resumed daily flights from Vienna to Tokyo Narita, but All Nippon Airways has launched a daily route from Haneda to the Austrian capital. So, for the first time in history, we have two daily flights between Tokyo and Vienna. And I understand that both airlines are fully booked, even though tickets are not exactly cheap. This will serve well for an increased stream of tourists in both directions.

At present, some 250,000 Japanese visitors go to Austria every year, and 20,000 Austrians visit Japan. Considering the relative size of the populations, this amounts to roughly the same level.

Right now, the majority of Japanese visitors to Austria only stay in Vienna. But, being a Tyrolean myself, I would like to convince Japanese visitors to Austria to extend their stay a little and take time to get to know the rest of the country.

As a nice coincidence, ANA’s direct flights started on 17 February and our delegation with the chancellor flew home on their maiden flight from Tokyo. 

“for the first time in history, we have two daily flights between Tokyo and Vienna”